Indoor Plants: The Rubber Tree

Rubber Tree
10 of 10 rubber trees and 1 of 2 cats.

Since my blog is about pet safe plants, I wanted to take a moment and talk about the rubber tree, or the most popular kind as indoor plants, ficus elastica.

Rubber Tree Ficus Elastica
Ficus elastica, about 3 months old.

I always have at least one of my rubber trees in my photos, as I have over 10 of them in various  parts of my house. Although not 100% pet safe, rubber trees have become one of my favorite houseplants. My cats won’t touch or eat them at all, which is why I began to take a liking to them. Plus they are somewhat easy to take care of, grow quickly and are so unique – especially the giant fleshy leaves and their pink underbelly. My biggest rubber tree is Rudy, who has had quite the growth spurt the last year. I always knew my children would be taller than me one day….

Ficus elastic / Rubber Tree
Harvey amongst the rubber forest.

I mentioned the aren’t totally pet safe – well, here is why. If you own one of these, you may have already encountered a milky liquid that comes out of the leaf it is punctured or taken off. This is partially why it’s called a rubber tree – that sap sticks to you and feels like rubber. Naturally if a cat or dog takes a nibble on the leaves, they would have quite a bit of oral discomfort, so they are labeled unsafe for pets for that reason.

Rubber tree
At Dickman Farms in FLX, NY.

Nibbling is highly unlikely primarily because they don’t actually look like leaves. My cat has no interest in eating something tough, plasticy, and awful tasting. Fast forward, now I have 10 Rudys and my cats still don’t care.

Rubber tree
Variegated (and tiny!) ficus elastica.

A pet safe cousin to the ficus elastica is Pepperomia, which is 100% safe for pets; they’re smaller and sometimes called “american rubber plant” or “baby rubber plant.” A toxic member of the ficus family is the ficus benjamina, which can sometimes go by “Indian rubber plant,” but really looks nothing like a rubber tree at all. This variety is much more toxic, so I avoid this type of ficus altogether.

Peperomia

If you are looking to add a rubber tree to your collection but have cats, check the label to make sure it is either a ficus elastica or a pepperomia, and take it home, monitor your pets for any interest, and you’ll know if you can buy 10 more in the near future.

 

Finding Light for Your Indoor Plants

Light for you indoor plants
The best light for indoor plants.
Admire the decent light – it doesn’t last long.

I live in an old 1840s cottage. It has a weird layout and windows are in strange places. I guess it’s charming, but considering I possess an irrational number of indoor plants, it can be downright inconvenient. The windows can be drafty, with sun and light coming in a select few of those windows. I gush over Instagram pictures of homeowners with giant lofts with massive windows and skylights, but I do like my odd-shaped ancient abode, so I make it work.

The best light for indoor plants.
Fiddle Leaf goals, amiright?

Light is one of three important pieces in the happy plant puzzle. No light = unhappy plants. I wouldn’t want to spend everyday in a dark corner with dusty books, would you? Indoor plants can’t do their thing and function properly without  sunlight, even those “tough as steel” plants that can be put “anywhere.” Plants need some kind of sunlight. Period.

The best light for indoor plants.
Ignore the unfinished paint job… -_-

How to you determine the best plant placement? Take a compass (there’s an app for that) and find where your South windows are. These will most likely shed the brightest light  for indoor plants like spider plants and rubber trees. Medium light is the West and East windows, depending on the time of day (a reminder, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West). I usually stick my medium and low light plants here. This includes Sansevieria, Fittonia, my Fiddle Leaf Fig, and palms go in either of these windows. The North window (which is my kitchen) houses only my ferns and Pothos, which like the humidity, no direct sun, and occasional brightness from my skylight.

The best light for indoor plants.
Dracena on my porch.

Light also plays a crucial role in watering, but more on that later. To be super sciencey, you can actually measure sunlight in foot-candles, which is what is used in horticulture. And there’s actually an app for that – it’s called Light Meter and currently available on the App Store.

I also move my plants around quite a bit. This is partially due to acquiring one or more every month, but primarily so they get a change of scenery and a different view of the sun. Plus, my cats like it too.

 

 

Six Poisonous Plants to Pets

Corn Plant

It is handy to have a list of plants that are safe for pets, but it is actually more important to know which plants are a no-no to Mittens and Fido. These are the top six plants that are the MOST poisonous to pets. Whether you have cats or dogs (or even babies for that matter), these should be off your plant list. Photos are a great way to identify a plant, but always go by the latin name on the label, that ensures that similar-looking plants do not get mixed up.

Sago PalmSago Palm

The Sago Palm is really dangerous. In warmer climates (not here in NY, because, snow) these are found in backyards, but they are popular office and indoor plants too. Let these stay in your office and not in any location where there are pets. Cats take fancy to the fronds and dogs may like to chew on the woody root. Ingesting the Sago leads to hemorrhaging, liver damage, resulting in death. Name to look for: Cycas revoluta

Lily

Lily
Pic by Kaz Andrews

Generally speaking, lilies are not a great choice for furry friends. They are more toxic to cats than dogs, but either way should be avoided if you have one or the other. Peace lilies are toxic to both pets, Liliaceae lilies (the kind you get in bouquets and bundles from the florist) are primarily toxic to cats, and Calla lilies (the kind typically seen at funerals and in bouquets) are poisonous to both. Ingestion leads to difficulty swallowing, breathing and can be fatal unless medical attention is immediate. The most common ER visit related to toxic plants is ingestion of some kind of lily. For me, I’m not a fan of them anyway, but having a home of curious cats, I do not invite anything in the Liliaceae or Araceae family into my home.

Asparagus Fern

Asparagus Fern

I include the Aparagus Fern precisely because it is called a fern.  Most ferns are pet-friendly and lovely, but not this one. It’s label name, Asparagus densiflorus cv sprengeri, is also called Plumosa Fern or Lace Fern, so I urge you check out the label. These are really pretty and delicious looking to your curious cat. Little do they know it can lead to stomach upset and vomiting, which doesn’t make it worth keeping around for its looks.

CyclamenCyclamen

Cyclamen come around the holidays and winter-time, at least in the Northeast. They make appearances as guest and party gifts for hosts. Unfortunately, they aren’t welcome in my house….I prefer wine anyway. If any part of these are consumed, symptoms are gastric upset and, if the roots are eaten, seizures and death. Nobody wants a sick pet for Christmas.

Dieffenbachia Dieffenbachia

Popular in doctor’s office and malls, Dieffenbachia or giant dumb cane, unfortunately make the toxic list. They grow quickly and look gorgeously prehistoric, but they can be poisonous for paws. If nibbled, dogs and cats may develop irritation of the mouth, leading to difficulty swallowing and vomiting. I guess we should just keep these in Dr. Krentist’s office instead.

Dracaena

Dracaena

Most of the houseplants you can think of are Dracaena. This Von-Trap plant family includes indoor plant standbys: Janet Craig Dracaena, Lemon Lime, Corn Plant,  Marginata or Dragon Plant, Reflexa (which looks like a spider plant), and Lucky Bamboo are all siblings. It is in this family I encourage label reading – anything with Dracaena in the name, gently put back. They tend to be cat and dog magnets and if they are eaten can lead to a number of uncomfortable things such as vomiting, lethargy, and most likely a vet visit that could have been avoided.